Up jumped a pretty, curly, fair-haired little elf, whose merry blue eyes proclaimed him to be full of mischief; and without any further prelude than a bow to his liege lord, and a very knowing wink as he looked towards Tom, he began the following song:
A horse we catch, of rare good stock--
No common hack will suit our taste--
A score or more will mount his back,
And round and round the fields we haste.
Click to enlarge
THE JADED STEED
On, on we ride, nor slack the speed
Till the grey east light gives warning; p. 51
Back to his home to guide our steed,
And hide ourselves snug ere morning.
The farmer to his farmyard hies,
Bent on good care and feeding;
His pet nag meets his bewildered eyes
All foam-bedecked and bleeding.
Then sure, he says, the elfin crew
Have held their demon races;
Poor Dobbin's shaken through and through,
Lost looks, flesh, temper, paces.
The farmer then, without delay,
Nails on a lock to his stable door;
Makes all secure by night and day,
Resolved we fays shall ride no more.
But we manage still to find some sport
Where stable locks are still unknown;
And we train the pick of all the lot
After a fashion quite our own.
"We do! we do! we do indeed!" shrieked a hundred laughing elves and bugganes, "and have our rides in spite of all."
"Bravo! bravo!" rang around the room from all sides as the singer resumed his seat.
"No one knows better than he does where to pick out a decent bit of horseflesh," said a mannikin seated next to Tom, addressing him and pointing to the singer of the last song. "And it's many a farmer that he has caused to stare in the morning when he has seen his horses, which he expected to find refreshed by their night's rest and all ready for a day's work, covered with mud and foam as if they had been galloped all over the island in the night--very likely lamed, and not fit for work for a week."
Kewley made no reply, but eyed the singer with no friendly gaze as he remembered only too sadly how sometimes his own horses had been used by the elves in much the same way.
At the bidding of the master of the revels, a very lovely little fair-haired lady now stood up, and, in the sweetest and clearest voice Tom had ever heard warbled forth the following song:
Now ’neath the moon's
Bright silvery ray
We spread our fairy board,
Of honey sweet
On rose-leaf laid,
As fits a festal board.
The pale moon wanes,
The morn is cold,
Each fairy elf and fay,
Snug in a flower,
To wait the broad, bright day.
From our flow’ry beds
We rise again
And bathe in the pearly dew; p. 53
Then take the air
With a butterfly pair
Link’d to a petal blue.
The evening comes.
Adown the streams,
We sail to Rushen Glen
On a lily leaf
And meet once more
In song and dance again.
On the little Prima Donna resuming her seat she became the centre of a small select circle of admirers, all eager to lay the incense of their compliments and praises at her feet; while the uproarious applause of the rest of the rollicking assemblage made the room ring again. In the midst of the noise and confusion a party of bugganes and elves entered, tumbling over each other with most extraordinary capers and tricks, which only ceased on their being summoned into the immediate presence of the king, and ordered to give an account of their doings and the reason of their late arrival.
"Most mighty king," said one, who was the merriest and most active of the whole party, and was evidently the leader and prime mover of all their mischief and pranks, "we have been high busy, you may be sure, or we should not have been away from your gracious presence and so glorious a feast. A new-born mortal child has been changed by us to-night, and a long-standing score of vengeance paid off on that old miser Bobby Cottier, of Ballagaraghan."
"Let us hear all about it," shouted a score of voices.
"Order! order!" cried the king, flourishing his sceptre and looking as fierce as so pleasant and merry a little face could do. "You, sir, give us full particulars of the changed child first," singling out the active leader to be spokesman, "and Bobby Cottier's affair will come after."
"May it please your majesty to listen," began the merry elf, bowing
with great stateliness of body and turning his head to wink at his companions with the most grotesque humour. "May it please your majesty, knowing that the wife of Paul Quiggin, of the Ballabeg Farm at Jurby, had early yester morn had an addition to her family, we determined to steal the babe and leave one of ourselves in its place. We commenced by drawing lots who should be the one to be left in the cradle and be nursed by the mother as her own child. The lot fell on RUSTIN-WEE, whom we prepared to take the place of the baby directly we could get a chance to make the exchange. On arriving at Ballabeg we divided into two parties. I, with RUSTIN-WEE and six others, hid beneath the grass and between the stones near the door; while the others scampered off to the stable and cow-house, setting all the horses and cattle loose. They then began driving them about and making a terrible noise, for the animals were all mad with fright, that, one after the other, every one came running out of the house to see what was the matter and all the disturbance about--Paul Quiggin, his brother Joe, several others, and among them the woman who was nursing Mrs. Quiggin and the bairn. No sooner had they all come out, leaving Betty Quiggin and the child alone in the house, than in we rushed, and in the twinkling of an eye had the little one out of the cradle and RUSTIN-WEE snugly wrapped up in his place. Off we started, and before poor Paul and the others had got the horses and cattle into their stalls again, we were miles away, with the bantling, who is now safe in fairy keeping--where, you all very well know."
"Ha! Ha! Ha! Ho! Ho! Ho! He! He-e!! He-e-e!!!" burst out in chorus from every one of the elfin crew. As for Tom Kewley, he was frightened out of his wits at hearing of what had happened to the Quiggins, and wished himself safe back at Ballasalla, though he almost despaired of ever reaching there again.
He had most rigidly heeded the warning given to him on first entering, and had not tasted either meat or drink, though strongly pressed by his neighbours. Hitherto he had managed to evade their importunities; but could he do so much longer was very doubtful.
"Pray what have you done to old Bobby Cottier?" asked the king.
"Oh, not half what he deserves, your majesty. Nothing could be too bad for such a miserly old curmudgeon; and he so seldom gives any of us a chance. The roof of his hen-roost is old; and the stingy old beggar, grudging the cost of a little new thatch, the winds have made free with it, so that we very easily got in, sucked all the fresh eggs, and pricked all those under the setting hens. We then got through into the cow-house by shifting a loose board, which old Robby would not afford a nail on. We milked every beast quite dry; cast an EVIL EVE on the two best cows, who will give nought but bitter milk as long as they live. Then we hied us off to the pigs, and turning the great fierce boar into the same stye with a sow and her litter of a dozen young pigs, he savagely set to and began to worry the lot; when, the sow turning on him to defend her children, a regular scrimmage ensued. When we left, eight of the little piggies were dead--trampled to death in the fight--and the sow is so gored by her savage old lord's tusks, that the best thing Master Cottier can do in the morning will be to kill her at once to save her from dying. Just as we were coming away you could have heard the old man's shouts a mile off, for, having got up to see what the row was all about, he tumbled over a barrow standing in the doorway of his house, and broke either his shins or his head.
"Ha! Ha! Ha! Ho! Ho! Ho! He! He-e!! He-e-e!!!" shouted a host of approving bugganes.
"Serve him right if he had broken both, and his neck to boot," cried one shrill voice.
"If he had left a crock of clean water or a bowl of new milk at his door, instead of his barrow, he would have saved his shins and his pate," said another.
When the merriment at the old miser's misfortunes had somewhat subsided, and every one had made their remarks on the subject, a very important little fairy-man, who seemed by his dress and manner to be some one of great importance--a Lord Chamberlain at the very least--called every one to order, and commanded all the assembly to charge their glasses and goblets to the brim, to drink a bumper toast, and no heel-taps, to the
health of their beloved royal master the great king of the Manx fairies, emperor of all elves, and lord of all bugganes.
The whole company instantly rose to their feet with brimming goblets in their hands, prepared to do full honours to the toast.
Poor Tom Kewley knew that now was the critical moment of his adventure. He feared it was all up with his ever returning to his wife and child, and was beginning to speculate in his mind how it would be possible to avoid drinking, when his eye caught sight of the same little man from whom he had received his friendly warning on entering. The little fellow was seated on the opposite side of the table some little distance off; and was gesticulating most anxiously to draw his attention and renew the caution. Tom's fears and perplexities were great indeed. If he drank, he was doomed to remain with the fairies for ever; if he refused, what vengeance would they not wreak upon him for so great an insult to their king?
He clenched his teeth in desperation, and stood up with the rest, cup in hand, and, hoping his actions would escape notice, he raised his hand and cup to his lips, and, watching his opportunity, when he thought all were too intent upon their own drinking to pay any heed to him, and had their eyes hidden in their own cups, he tilted his own over and poured the contents upon the ground.
A most unearthly yell!
A thousand shrieks!
A most terrific peal of thunder, with a flash of lightning that seemed to burn up everything around him
Tom Kewley saw or heard no more.
Fairies, elves, feast, and bugganes, everything vanished, and he had an indistinct feeling of being suddenly lifted up as high as the top of Snaefell, and as suddenly let fall upon the ground.